Infinite Summer

Formed in the summer of 2009 to read David Foster Wallace's masterwork "Infinite Jest".
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 Post subject: Tools, timelines, wikis and such
PostPosted: Sun Jun 28, 2009 3:47 pm 
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Joined: Wed Jun 24, 2009 6:58 pm
Posts: 13
So this thought just occurred to me (and then I have to get up off my ass and get my run in before the end of the day)...

As (re)readers, do we do ourselves a disservice in using readers' guides, wikis, graf-for-graf discussions too much when reading IJ (or any book, for that matter)?

One side of the argument says that the tools lead to increased understanding of the themes and ideas DFW was trying to deliver (or at least that a large group of people think he was trying to deliver :) ) The other side says that in accessing the tools, we're not forced to build our own structures of meaning within the book and that we mentally don't do some/a lot of the work we're supposed to as readers.

Put another way, did DFW build us a grand puzzlebox to be solved and deciphered? Or did he build a massively rambling house on a cliff by the ocean, with rooms where he wanted them, recursive hallways and weird wallpaper in which we're welcome to fall under the spell of the individual components but risk missing the twisted genius of the whole?

It's probably not that clearly delineated, but it's helpful to remind myself that in picking up the book, I have to be willing to hand over whatever my notions are about writing/stucture/etc. if I hope to get close to what the author was trying to say. Put another way, sometimes, I have to put down the tools, quiet the senior writing seminar in my head and read what I think the author was trying to say.

But that's just me. You?

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 Post subject: Re: Tools, timelines, wikis and such
PostPosted: Sun Jun 28, 2009 4:40 pm 
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Joined: Mon Jun 22, 2009 9:50 pm
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I think it's cool to read it however you want to read it. I don't think you lose anything either way. When I first read the novel, I happened to flip to p 223 to find the list of subsidized years, and I thought it came in handy as far as placing events on a chronology, but even that's not necessary if you just go with the flow of the book.

It's fun to try to make the connections (e.g., some people listed in the filmography turn up as ETA teachers) and tie stuff together; but you can get too caught up in it, such that you'll try to make connections where they don't necessarily exist. It's not like watching CSI, where every little thing contributes to the resolution; there are loose ends that don't get picked back up, and there are things that go unexplained or remain vague.

My personal take (as someone who is not an intellectual and would never get all the layers anyway) is that what I like most about the book is its richness; the universe it offers up does not feel smaller than my own. It's not like I'll get to the point where I'll have it completely figured out, so it will always have some hold on my imagination.

Also, I think there are parts of the novel (my favorites being 'Erdedy waiting' on p 17, and then later a hilariously bad article by Helen Steeply on p 142 and a great psychological/sociological analysis of the failure of videophones on p 144) that are brilliant and heartbreaking and perfect as discrete entities, independent of the novel's larger themes and mysteries.


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 Post subject: Re: Tools, timelines, wikis and such
PostPosted: Mon Jun 29, 2009 1:43 pm 
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Joined: Wed Jun 10, 2009 4:14 pm
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Location: UTAH. Yes I'm from Utah. No I'm not a Mormon.
I was actually thinking along those lines this weekend. During the last week I spent as much time in the forums as I did reading the book. I want to read it twice during Infinite Summer and I finally came to this realization: The fun of re-reading this book is discovering little things you missed in previous readings. Everything I have pointed out to me this time will cut back on the excitement for my third time through. It's the mystery that keeps the book fresh. Either that or it's more like the Entertainment than I thought...

I think that is the aspect of this book's brilliance that most frequently goes undiscussed. I think DFW came as close as humanly possible in writing a novel that can captivate us endlessly. When I'm not reading IJ I am thinking about IJ. There is just too much going on and too many questions to read the book and be done with it. In a sense, I guess the things he left out are just as impressive as anything he put in. If it he had given it a very clear resolution with no unresolved questions, it may not demand multiple re-readings.


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 Post subject: Re: Tools, timelines, wikis and such
PostPosted: Mon Jun 29, 2009 2:09 pm 
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Joined: Tue Jun 23, 2009 12:49 pm
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Location: Washington, DC
CodyVanDer wrote:
I think that is the aspect of this book's brilliance that most frequently goes undiscussed. I think DFW came as close as humanly possible in writing a novel that can captivate us endlessly. When I'm not reading IJ I am thinking about IJ. There is just too much going on and too many questions to read the book and be done with it. In a sense, I guess the things he left out are just as impressive as anything he put in. If it he had given it a very clear resolution with no unresolved questions, it may not demand multiple re-readings.


I totally agree, Cody. When I first finished the book, and was denied the narrative closure I wanted, and dimly realized that there was a lot I had missed, I realized that I was being tempted to go back to the beginning and start all over. (A bit like Finnegans Wake, which I've never made it through.) In this sense IJ is the Entertainment, endlessly engrossing.

To the larger point, I don't think there is any tension between reading the book in a mystery-solving mode vs. "just" reading it and enjoying its brilliance and emotional depth. To me, the complexity of the plot -- and all the little clues (some highly relevant, perhaps others not) -- that DFW scattered throughout only add to the pleasure.


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 Post subject: Re: Tools, timelines, wikis and such
PostPosted: Mon Jun 29, 2009 3:02 pm 
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Joined: Sat Jun 06, 2009 10:01 pm
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I totally agree with both of you. The first time through, I just read the thing. Once in awhile, I'd come to something I'd read earlier, and naturally, couldn't find it in the text, damn. This time through, I'm doing more intensive reading to seek out connections and what have you. But it's definitely not necessary to pick the text apart to enjoy the narrative. It depends on the reader. Dave's "big picture" lessons shine through, no matter how you read the book. Huzzah!

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